Meet Pittsburgh Steelers 1st-rd pick T.J. Watt through his journey to being his own man
Where his older brothers barge right in, T.J. Watt circles and waits.
Brad Arnett has known the Watts for ten-and-a-half years. He’s known three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt to walk straight into his office at NX Level Sports, toss his workout equipment on the ground and strike up a minutes-long conversation. He’s known San Diego Chargers fullback Derek Watt to do the same.
Arnett’s routinely seen the youngest Watt brother go around the outside of his office, into the nearby kitchenette, come back in front of Arnett’s window, lightly tap on the window through which Arnett already saw him, then turn away to warm up for a workout.
The Steelers’ first-round pick is still like this.
He and his brothers have always been a little different from each other, Arnett said. They’re not triplets. But Watt’s lived most of his athletic life in their shadow. It’s only in recent years that he’s gradually accelerated toward what Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and Watt himself called becoming his own person.
He’s done so in painstaking parts, but hasn’t finished, which is what he has to do in Pittsburgh — the first home city where Watt will put on a uniform his older brothers haven’t yet.
“I think this is finally the next step for me, to be in the National Football League and to be in my own organization and totally be separate,” Watt said.
Watt readily admits his last name was somewhat of a burden when he was in high school. He handled it better than most would’ve, said Justin Friske, Watt’s head coach in his senior year at Pewaukee High School, but it couldn’t not weigh him down.
He got pulled aside for a halftime interview at one of his senior year games by a Houston TV crew that was in town reporting a feature on J.J., who was in the middle of his first NFL defensive player of the year-winning campaign, in 2012. In the middle of his own game, Watt was reduced to a sideshow.
“You know, all he wanted to do was play,” Friske said.
As much as the eldest Watt brother was making the NFL and its backfields his own, middle brother Derek was the local celebrity. He won state player of the year in 2010 and was the most heavily recruited of the three.
Watt inched out some semblance of a name for himself as a sophomore, playing in the same defense as Derek, in part, then-Pewaukee head coach Clay Iverson said, because he was under the radar.
“I’m sure it was cool when he was younger, but as you get older and start to make your own accomplishments, like any of us, you say ‘Hey, I’ve done some things too and it’s not just because of the last name on my jersey,’” Iverson said. “I think that probably drove him.”
Breaking J.J.’s high school shotput record gave Watt a glimpse at standing alone, Arnett said.
Still, there was no saying no to Wisconsin. Watt said he didn’t have a favorite team growing up beyond whichever one he was watching his brothers play for. They watched the Badgers. Then they played for the Badgers.
Watt had to leave Pewaukee for people to know him as an individual, Friske said, but he was still following his brothers.